Cameron Norrie battles back for key win but brands umpiring call ‘absurd’

British men's number one battles to five-set victory over Benoit Paire in the first round of the French Open.

Cameron Norrie battles back for key win at French Open but brands umpiring call ‘absurd’ Getty Images

Cameron Norrie branded an umpiring call against him “absurd” and “unacceptable” after battling to a five-set victory over Benoit Paire in the first round of the French Open.

A British singles wipe-out looked to be on the cards for the second time in four editions in Paris when Norrie trailed 4-2 in the deciding set on Suzanne Lenglen but he fought back to defeat Frenchman Paire 7-5 4-6 3-6 6-1 6-4 and silence the lively home crowd.

A key moment occurred in the third game of the second set when, with Norrie serving at 30-30, umpire Nico Helwerth docked the 14th seed a point for a hindrance, claiming he had shouted out during play.

Paire went on to break serve and, although Norrie kept his protest brief on court, he made it clear in the press conference room just how unhappy he was.

“I think both of us didn’t know why he called it,” said Norrie. “I think Benoit thought it was for him, both of us were a bit confused. It was for sure a grunt. It was a big point. I don’t know why he felt it was necessary to get involved there. He gave me no warning whatsoever.

“It ultimately changed the momentum of the match. I was holding pretty comfortably, for the most part, up until that point. The next point Benoit had a winner and then I was a break down.

“It was strange. He must have thought that I said something, and I think for him to get involved there was absurd.”

Norrie cited another decision on Sunday against Dan Evans, when the British player was foot-faulted by a line judge at the far end of the court for his back foot crossing the centre line.

“I watched that and he was nowhere near foot-faulting and the guy is calling him on the other side of the net,” said Norrie.

“What are we doing here? I’m here playing tennis, competing as hard as I can, and to do that, a pretty big point. Maybe if I spoke to him now he thinks he’s wrong but, at the end of the day, I’m fighting my a**e off and one call could obviously influence the match.

“I did my best to try and not let it bother me. I’ve never been called for that before ever. I think it’s obviously unacceptable – that’s my point of view – but, if he makes a decision wrong, there’s no consequences. And, for me, if I do something wrong, there’s consequences.”

Paire, possessor of one of the best beards in sport but not one of the best temperaments, has toyed with retirement at the age of 34 and came into the event as a wild card ranked 134.

When they met in the same round at the US Open last summer, Norrie won two lightning quick sets 6-0 either side of a competitive second, with Paire packing up his bag before the match had finished.

But his attitude was very different here and he probably should have won a scrappy first set after leading by a break and having seven more break points.

Norrie has struggled for form over the past couple of months and was unable to wrest the momentum back from Paire during the second and third sets, with the crowd getting ever more involved, breaking out the Marseillaise and the Mexican wave.

The Frenchman seemed to settle for a decider after going an early break down in the fourth, and he looked on his way to victory when Norrie handed over another break to start the fifth, but the British number one was eventually rewarded for his probing.

He can expect a similar atmosphere in the next round, when he takes on a resurgent Lucas Pouille, who has been the toast of Roland Garros this week after coming through qualifying following injury and personal problems.

Norrie relishes such occasions, saying: “I think it’s great to play those matches in grand slams against home favourites, and I think that’s why I play tennis. That’s why I love those moments.

“To be on the flip side of that is difficult at times. I think the crowd can be tough at times, but I keep reminding myself it’s good to be playing, that I want to be out there competing and being in those tough moments when the crowd is against me.

“It makes it even better to come through those matches, so it was really cool to play on that court and against Benoit, who was competing really hard and also he came with a good level today.

“I didn’t play my best, and there’s a lot of the things I want to work on in practice tomorrow, but it’s good to get through it and nice to win a five-set match.”

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